The Best River Cruises of 2023

Whether you’d love to sail through France’s Bordeaux or Provence regions, explore ancient Egyptian sites along the Nile, or visit the Mekong’s floating markets, there’s a river cruise that’s best for you.

A view from the shore of Avignon of the Pont d'Avignon stretching out into the middle of the Rhône River in France.

Indulge in the beauty and history of Provence on a Rhône river cruise.

Photo by Shutterstock

River cruise ships have returned postpandemic to inland waterways around the world, affording travelers a slow and immersive way to explore riverside towns and sights without the hassle of checking into and out of hotels and figuring out local transportation.

New itineraries and themed cruises in 2023 make it possible to go farther afield and explore areas of interest more deeply(such as Black history, cuisine, and active endeavors). Alternatively, classic tried-and-true routes will bring guests to UNESCO World Heritage sites and other must-see as well as under-the-radar attractions, with most (if not all) of your accommodations, meals, excursions, and Wi-Fi included in your cruise fare.

If you are thinking of taking a river cruise, here are some new and favorite options to consider.

Visiting Vienna is a highlight of any Danube river cruise.

Visiting Vienna is a highlight of any Danube river cruise.

Sandro Gonzalez/Unsplash

Upper Danube

Best for: a first-timer’s river cruise

If you’ve never been on a river cruise before, the Upper Danube is the perfect beginner’s destination for the wealth of beautiful cities and sights along the way. Cruises sail between Germany and Hungary and include stops in Budapest, Vienna, and Austria’s famous Wachau Valley wine region. Every major river line offers a week-long classic itinerary along this route. A reliable choice in terms of value and consistency is sailing on one of Viking River Cruises’ contemporary 190-passenger “longships”—the company has a fleet of nearly identical river ships in Europe. The line’s “Romantic Danube” itinerary offers quality time in Budapest, Vienna, and the Bavarian city of Regensburg in Germany, where passengers can opt either for included escorted tours or explore on their own. Excursion options include an e-bike ride through vineyards and a visit to Salzburg, Austria, where several scenes of the iconic musical The Sound of Music were filmed. Cruises take place from March through December, with fares from $2,400 per person.

A statue in the foreground with the Seine River in Paris and Eiffel Tower in the background

Dig deeper into Paris’s history on a new AmaWaterways cruise.

Photo by Michael Maga/Unsplash

Paris and Provence’s Rhône River

Best for: focusing on France’s rich Black and epicurean history

New for 2023, river cruise line AmaWaterways is doing a seven-night sailing in Provence based on the theme of “A Soulful Epicurean Experience on the River.” The cruise takes place on the 156-passenger AmaKristina and combines the line’s already wonderful “Colors of Provence” itinerary from Arles to Lyon in France with a specially curated three-night postcruise visit to Paris, focused on the city’s Black heritage and culture. One excursion will honor the legacy of singer Josephine Baker, while another will focus on Black history in Paris. Sailing along the Rhône River through the South of France there will also be an option for passengers to participate in a Black heritage tour in Marseilles. On the ship, evening jazz performances will feature local performers. The sailing embarks August 24, 2023. Fares are from $4,500 per person, including a three-night luxury hotel stay in Paris.

A small boat sails along the water in the Danube Delta in Romania with a tower in the background

Explore the lesser-known Danube Delta region in Romania on this comprehensive river cruise.

Photo by Shutterstock

Seven European rivers

Best for: a thorough exploration of Europe

A new opportunity for 2023 are river cruises that sail for more than a month, offering an intense exploration of the inland waterways of Europe. One of them is AmaWaterways’ recently introduced 45-night “Seven River Journeys,” which kicks off on April 20, 2023, cruising to 14 European countries and 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites along seven rivers—including the Danube, Rhône, and Rhine. The itinerary involves three river ships, beginning in Avignon, France, and concluding in Giurgiu, Romania. A 45-night summer version starts in Paris on June 1, 2023. There’s also a 46-night fall cruise that begins in Paris on August 24, 2023. The cruises are priced from $25,650 per person in spring and fall, and from $26,600 per person in summer.

The bedroom in a suite onboard Uniworld's Nile river cruise ship the S.S. Sphinx with views of the passing Nile scenery.

Sail the Nile in style with Uniworld.

Courtesy of Uniworld

Europe and the Nile

Best for: diving deep into both European and Egyptian history

Another blockbuster river cruise sailing is being offered by luxury river cruise line Uniworld Boutique River Cruises—a 46-night “Rivers of the World” cruise that explores two continents. The nine-country itinerary begins in Cairo and ends Lisbon, and the itinerary includes flights between countries and luxury hotel stays. Along the route, guests will explore Egypt via the Nile, touch upon the Mediterranean Sea and the Swiss Alps, and cruise through both central and northern Europe on an epic journey that will incorporate five different river cruise ships. The sailing begins on May 20, 2023, with fares starting at $39,000 per person.

Exterior of a chateaux in Saint-Emilion

Go châteaux hopping in France’s Bordeaux region.

Photo by Jonathan Farber/Unsplash

The Dordogne and Garonne rivers in France’s Bordeaux region

Best for: oenophiles

A must-do for wine lovers is an in-depth exploration of Bordeaux, along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers and the Gironde Estuary in France. Australian luxury line Scenic Cruises does a seven-night “Bordeaux Affair” itinerary that’s as appealing as it sounds. Sailings run from late April into October, and while they don’t take passengers far geographically, that’s not the point. Rather the idea is to sip and savor France’s wine country, stopping along the way at gorgeous châteaux and vineyards to enjoy the local product in iconic destinations such as Margaux, Saint-Emilion, Medoc, Pomerol, and Sauternes. Scenic’s tours include several Grand Cru Class estates—Château Franc Mayne and Château Myrat among them. If you cruise in September or October, you’ll also be able to observe the annual grape harvest. The cruise takes place on Scenic’s 167-passenger Scenic Diamond and is priced from $5,145 per person.

Buildings, boats and trees line an Amsterdam canal

On Avalon’s more active sailings, excursion options include kayaking along the Amsterdam canals.

Photo by Adrian Olichon/Unsplash

Rhine River

Best for: active exploration of Europe’s castles and vineyards

When it comes to riverside scenery, it’s hard to beat the Rhine, with its 40-mile UNESCO World Heritage-protected Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Here, passengers will want to be out on deck admiring the castles dotting the shoreline. All major river cruise lines offer sailings along the Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland. But for those who want to get their heart rate up a little to the backdrop of stunning Rhine River views, Avalon Waterways’ 166-passenger Avalon Expression cruises a seven-night “Active & Discovery” itinerary that combines classic sightseeing with hiking, biking, kayaking, and other adrenaline-boosting experiences. Passengers can e-bike through the Black Forest, trek along the river in Strasbourg, France, and kayak the canals of Amsterdam, among other activities. The cruises are available on select dates, from April to September and priced from $3,049 per person.

Small boats of river market on the Mekong

A cruise along the Mekong is a feast for the senses.

Photo by Shutterstock

Mekong River

Best for: exploring the vibrant river life of Cambodia and Vietnam

Pandemic restrictions meant a slow return to river cruises on the Mekong River, but ships restarted Mekong itineraries in summer 2022, with more coming in 2023. The cruises explore the fascinating and complex cultures and history of Cambodia and Vietnam. One of the newest ships in the region is Viking’s 80-passenger Viking Saigon, done up in Scandinavia decor and sailing 14-night journeys that include hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap, and Ho Chi Minh City, combined with a seven-night river cruise. Fares start at $6,600 per person. Another new ship to consider is Uniworld’s all-suite, 68-passenger Mekong Jewel. With a swimming pool on the top deck, it has been billed as one of the most luxurious ships on the Mekong. Fares for a 14-night river and land itinerary are from $7,000 per person.

Scarlet macaw in flight

Bird-watchers will delight in the chance at spotting scarlet macaws in the Amazon.

Photo by Shutterstock

Peruvian Amazon

Best for: wildlife seekers

An option that easily can be combined with a visit to Machu Picchu, a cruise on the Peruvian Amazon on the recently launched luxury vessel Aqua Nera (custom built for the destination) will fuel travelers’ thirst for South American adventure. Aqua Expeditions’ 40-passenger ship has as many crew members as guests, ensuring a high level of service as passengers join local naturalists to explore the black lagoons of the Amazon’s wildlife-rich Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Guests stay in sleek suites, enjoying cuisine envisioned by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, one of Peru’s most celebrated chefs, and facilities that include a cinema, billiards room, and top-deck gym. Kayaking, fishing, and guided nature tours are among the included activities. Fares for three-day cruises start at $4,335 per person (four- and seven-night sailings are available as well).

Exterior of Antwerp brewery

Quench your thirst for a brew on this beer-themed river cruise sailing.

Photo by Shutterstock

Holland and Belgium’s inland waterways

Best for: beer lovers

Tulip Time for Beer Enthusiasts” is a themed cruise that Avalon Waterways designed specifically for beer lovers. From Amsterdam, passengers will cruise through Holland and Belgium, where springtime flowers will be on full display (including tulips at Holland’s famous Keukenhof Gardens); along the way there will ample opportunities for sipping brews. A harbor cruise in Rotterdam comes with a beer lecture, and guests can opt for guided visits to breweries in Antwerp and Ghent in Belgium. A beer expert will be on board hosting talks, tastings, and food pairings. The cruise embarks on March 26, 2023, with fares from $2,648 per person. Avalon Waterways also has beer itineraries on the Rhine and Danube.

Fran Golden covers cruises for AFAR.
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